Sunday after Ian

I left town for Ian; technically, I left the state. Even though I don’t regret the decision, there’s a weird sense of guilt that comes with it (that may be for another post).

I got back to West Bradenton Thursday evening. Electricity on. Wi-Fi working. Cul-de-sac cleaned. It was like nothing had happened. But all you have to do is open any social media platform and be brought into the reality that something most certainly had happened.

Friday morning, my church sent out an email stating that the Sarasota elementary school where we meet isn’t able to host us today. So the challenge was issued to, instead of attending a service, serve the community. Here’s the challenge:

Even though we may not be gathering as a church this Sunday, we can still BE THE CHURCH. This Sunday, we invite you to join us in a SERVE SUNDAY. Would you get out and serve the people around you? Imagine the church in action spread throughout our neighborhoods and our city. What a beautiful thing that will be.  
Serve Sunday doesn’t have to look like just cutting debris and clearing yards, although it might be. This could look like making a meal with your kids for families still without power. This could look like taking some cookies to the local fire department. This could look like simply walking the neighborhood and checking in on each home, asking if they need anything.  
Let’s do this, if we see a need, let’s meet a need.

My guilt was already driving me to do something, which I managed to do on Friday and Saturday. I could have let that be it. But something was telling me that wasn’t enough.

This was supposed to be the first Sunday of my serving in a role that had me showing up at 7AM. With that off the table, I decided to drive to the beach to run, of course, but also to find answers to “enough.” Three hours later, God had given more answers than imaginable.

Before heading to the beach, I stopped to fill up the car. I overheard normal conversation about how other customers had fared the week and how challenging it was to have to keep generators running. AWARENESS #1: Not everyone has power yet.

I always park on the Gulf side of Coquina Beach. But not today. The main public parking was not open. Across the street, however, is a smaller parking lot where boat trailers park and have water entry access. And across the street is where you get a great view of sunrise. I arrived just in time to get this shot.

AWARENESS #2: The sun always rises.

I took off north to head back to Cortez road and cross the bridge to Cortez Village. I had just come to the first bend in the sidewalk and this is what I faced (I took pictures after my run for better lighting).

AWARENESS #3: Ian didn’t respect age.

Few people were moving about as I made my way to the bridge. Honestly, I’m not sure how many people are back. Other than cars on the road, it felt mostly abandoned. When I got up to the bridge, I was thinking about just running up to the draw bridge and turning around, but I felt the urge to continue over. As I ran down the other side, my left shoe felt loose. At the foot of the bridge was a slight right turn into a mobile home park that I have never explored. I saw a sitting bench, so I paused there to tie my shoe. That led me down a further exploration of this park and Cortez Village, which was a first.

All along my run to that point, my “enough” was to pray for the residents, visitors, store owners, and businesses of Coquina Beach. As I continued that as I ran through the village, out of nowhere sat this little neighborhood church.

Photo from their Facebook page

At first, I ran by it. But then I knew I was to pause and serve this congregation by praying for them. I walked the parking lot. Nothing seemed damaged. It didn’t even look like there had been any debris. Either they’d already cleaned it up and disposed of it, or this little spot had not been touched. I counted the parking spaces; only 15 spaces, four of them handicapped. I thought about the pastor of this congregation. How unique his service is. How alone he may feel. How tempted he may be to believe the lie that his work doesn’t matter. AWARENESS #4: All service to others is service to God.

As I started back over the bridge to head back to my car, I still was asking God to show me what else I could do besides pray. The line “let’s meet a need from the email was my focus. And then it was clear. I had already heard the need. The folks buying gas beside me earlier illustrated a clear need people have. That was the final “enough.”

So back to the gas station I went. And I’m thinking, this is going to be a little weird-walking up to strangers and offering to pay for their gas. And my counter to my self talk was, “It’s only weird if you make it weird, John.”

My question after I pulled into a parking space was, how do I determine who to approach. I decided to just watch and see who might look like they had the most need. And as I watched and waited, it became clear.

I ended up approaching two customers. The first one was an elderly couple in an older car with a handicap license plate. He started walking toward the store with cash in his hand. When I asked if he’d allow me to pay for his gas with my card, he paused to see if I was serious. I let the silence speak. He said, “I have the money.” I replied, “I see that, but how about you keep it for something else.” And that was it. Nothing weird. Just mutual gratefulness. AWARENESS #5: Generosity is a universal language.

The second customer I suspected was serving others himself. He opened his truck’s tailgate and started taking the caps off of three 5-gallon gas cans. When I walked up and asked him if he’d paid for his gas yet, he said no. I asked then, “Will you let me pay for your gas?” Too bad we haven’t figured out how to take photos just with eye contact yet. He looked stunned, and his mind was swirling. Again I let the silence speak. The first thing he could say was, “I’m usually the one offering to help others. No one has ever asked me something like that.” My search was over. Customer #2 was enough. Those gas cans were to keep the generators running in his neighborhood. AWARENESS #6: Seek and you will find…God honors those who serve their neighbors.

Thank you, Hope City, for the challenge. The Sunday after Ian will always serve me as a reminder of the many ways God gives us enough.

Running Blind

The other morning I woke up before the alarm and decided I might as well get up and run. Out the door before 6, it was still dark. Roughly 3/4 of a mile out, running in the bike lane through my neighborhood, I approached a clump of something in the lane. As I got closer and a passing car’s lights lit up the lane, I figured out it was a dead possum. Roughly 20 yards later I stepped over a dead armadillo. Then within just yards I had to maneuver around two huge palm branches crossing the lane. Within that same patch, cars timely passed so I could see and not do something stupid.

Thinking about it later, I remembered this verse I’d read and journaled about recently from I John 2:11.

“Those who hate a fellow believer are in the darkness and walk around in the darkness; they do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”

Ever noticed how hate makes you do stupid things. Even while you’re doing them your mind is saying, “What is going on? I don’t want to do this. Where is this coming from?” Sometimes it’s not until much later, after you’ve totally blown it, that you figure it all out. Then you have to humble yourself, or at least you have the choice, and admit what was driving your outrageous actions.

Thank God for the light of love. It reveals the dead stuff, guides you to a better path, and helps you avoid roadkill and debris.

Choose it. Run in it. The alternative – running blind – can be quite costly.

(FB post from 8/27/2011)

Photo by Kouji Tsuru on Unsplash

Google Result 40,900,001

I just googled the word journaling and got 40,900,000 results. Guess another result can’t hurt.

These six journals contain my entries from Dec. ’99 to March ’12

In an effort to keep shrinking my library, I discarded six journals today. Hard to do? Not really, particularly since they are more than a decade old. And as tempting as it is for me to flip through the pages, instead I dwelt on the value of what was on the pages versus the exact words.

If you journal, you know the value. If you don’t journal, well there are 40 million web results to consider its value. As for my experience, here’s why I value journaling.

  1. Spiritual. This one is first for a reason. In those six journals, my guess is 95% of the content was from the discipline of journaling while engaging scripture reading. During that time frame, I mostly used the acronym SOAP, written about in The Divine Mentor by Wayne Cordeiro, to complete my journaling discipline. My engagement with God and the Bible took on new depth through the words penned on those pages. Pretty sure there’s not a price tag I could put on that.
  2. Emotional. A lot happened in those twelve years including working at three different churches in various roles, moving to a new city, completing a four-year masters degree, handing off a successful piano competition, becoming an intentional runner, and many other personal and family experiences. Allowing pen and paper to process the emotions of such events is beneficial to the one journaling and to those in their world. The value that is most surprising is how those emotions surface more quickly and more healthily due to the writing discipline.
  3. Mental. As one who believes our minds should be in constant growth, the discipline of journaling is a tool that aids that growth. When united with spiritual and emotional focuses, my mind is transformed. After twelve years of journaling, I know things I didn’t know before, I know things I didn’t know I needed to know, and I deepened my value of knowing both of those things.

How I journal, how often I journal, and how it impacts me continues to evolve. That’s reason enough to keep journaling.

Discovery Run

I did myself a favor. I stuck around another night in Jacksonville after the wedding last Saturday.

What do I have to show for it? For starters, Peterbrooke (well, I did…it didn’t last long), a good movie, and a great dinner.

But the best was my Sunday morning run. I got in 3.8 Saturday morning before meeting friends for breakfast before the wedding. But Sunday morning was what weekend running is all about. No time limits. No expectations. Just exploration. A chance to discover.

The little running I did when I lived in Jacksonville (’90-’02) was all neighborhood (Arlington, Mandarin). I never ran downtown. So I was excited to run around the AirBnB in Springfield and, since it was only a few miles south, Downtown.

There’s a vibe when you run downtown in any city. It’s not the isolation of the country or the ease of a neighborhood. There’s an energy. Even in the absence of traffic, there’s a sense of life unlike anywhere else. And I like it. Especially in the early morning hours.

From running the Main Street bridge, to hearing church bells ring, to discovering Henry J. Klutho Park, it was one of the most pleasant runs in recent memory.

Thank you, Jacksonville! You put a smile on my face every time.

Whispers to a Hot Minute

A hot minute about anger.

This morning I was angered by a social media post by a friend. This post, without a doubt, did harm. That in itself causes anger. This post, without a doubt, did harm to a mutual friend. That causes more and deeper anger.

And the reality is, social media posts can cause us anger just about every minute of the day, giving us the opportunity to feel like the whole day is one hot minute. These posts don’t necessarily have to be by people we know. Unfortunately, we are leered into getting hot from posts by people we don’t even know. We can believe the lie that we know their intentions, but reality is that’s impossible.

This morning, I had the same impulse most of us do. “Why don’t I point out the harm and basically put my friend in his place?” Thankfully, I refrained. Then my hotness said, “Well, sure, don’t put it out there for everybody to see. Just send him a private message.” Very tempting, but thankfully I still refrained. So what did I do? I went for a run.

So let me explain. Rarely do I run at 1PM. And rarely is going for a run a solution. But I know myself enough to know that one way to keep me from doing something stupid is to do something good. And some of my best thinking is while I’m running.

Sure enough, the hot minute subsided and the angry rebuttal left the front of my mind. Some call that regulation or de-escalation. In spiritual terms, I’d say it’s dropping your ego in order to let God have a say.

So here are God’s whispers while on my run:

  • “One person’s lack of turning their cheek doesn’t give you the right to do the same.”
  • “A fool is better left alone. I don’t need your help setting them straight.”
  • “Offer forgiveness rather than advice or judgment.”
  • “Consider how Jesus approached the harm Judas created.”

And that’s how I’ll be able to go to sleep tonight. Listening and following the whispers cooling my hot minute.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

10 Minutes in New Orleans

Last weekend we traveled to New Orleans to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll race. Unless you hibernate in your hotel, you see and therefore learn a lot in New Orleans. I’ve never been disappointed visiting New Orleans.

As for seeing and learning in New Orleans, a visit there should include taking in great food. We made it a point to not eat at the same place twice. Not necessarily hard to do, but certainly fun to achieve. Here’s the food establishments we visited during our stay:

The Milk Bar

We ate just about anything you could ask for: crawfish, shrimp and grits, crab, gumbo, pasta, burgers, pizza, chocolate, ice cream, and beignets. No regrets.

Boil Seafood House

I can only imagine the challenges these owners and employees have survived during the pandemic. This race, an annual event, wasn’t even held last year. And who knows how many others were canceled. So to be open and surviving is a testament to their commitment to their business and their customers.

We Floridians came to town somewhat clueless to the continuing COVID protocols in place in New Orleans. We learned real quick. Not in a rude way, but it was clear we were not at home. Mask mandates required us to mask up everywhere we went. No problem. Happy to comply. In some places, vaccination proof was required; we knew this as a requirement to enter the race expo. No problem. Happy to comply.

What was interesting to see was how the employees of these ten food businesses went about treating their customers while holding to these protocols. 9 out of 10 were excellent experiences. Regardless of their choosing to uphold the protocols or choosing to require vaccination proof, these employees treated their customers with excellent respect and warmth as they worked under unusual circumstances.

Our best experience was at Kilwins on Decatur Street. It was Sunday afternoon, and my friend wanted a shake. Google told us the closest shake available was Kilwins, so we headed there. We passed Cafe Beignet on our way there and decided it was time to get some beignets as well, after Kilwins. The next 10 minutes was a lesson in customer service.

If you know me, a “no” to ice cream is rare. But I was saving room for beignets. Even the chocolate was not tempting me in Kilwins. We already had our share from Leah’s Pralines, so I didn’t enter Kilwins with a shopping mindset. Just taking it in. We were not greeted at the door by anyone checking proof of vaccination. What we were greeted with was employees behind the counter welcoming us in the store, “Welcome to Kilwins!” My buddy ordered his shake, while I eyed the chocolate. Nicey, behind the counter, asked if I needed any help. I said, “No, just looking.” She offered to give me a fudge sample. Do you think I said no? After that sample of her favorite, she asked if I saw another fudge I’d like to sample. Well, I had to admit I didn’t need a sample. I had been hooked into buying a chunk of Toasted Coconut Fudge, simply because it sounded intriguing. Plus, Nicey lived up to her name. We walked out of Kilwins happy shake and fudge customers expecting to enjoy more happiness in beignet land.

We went from the best customer experience to the worst customer experience in what felt like another city, but only two stores apart. Not to bore you with the details, but suffice it to say one Cafe Beignet employee was determined to have things her way when it came to COVID protocols to the point customers did not feel welcomed. We were thankful for outside seating.

In that ten minutes in New Orleans, we saw and learned a few things about customer service, about how to treat one another during challenging times, about power, about treating others the way you want to be treated.

To the 90% of New Orleans businesses that made our trip amazing, thank you. We remember our time with you as minutes well spent, minutes we were seen and heard, minutes you thought more about us than you did yourself. Keep giving your customers great minutes!

Race Day is Coming…Ready?

Yesterday my run was a 6-mile route I created last Summer. It mostly runs east and west, as you can see here:

At the mile 1 turnaround, I noticed something. I had been running with the wind to my back, which meant for the next three miles it was now in my face. Made me stop (I didn’t actually stop running) and think…and this is where my mind went the next three miles.

Some windy days are worse than others. On those worse days, like this past Sunday when gusts were 20+MPH, I run as much as possible in the crosswind. Of course, you always have the choice to say, “No thanks. I’m not even lacing up.”

Ultimately, you need to run into the wind. Why? Because Race Day is Coming!

All the training weeks before race day you can do whatever you want in choosing to deal with the elements. But come race day, it’s out of your hands. There’s no opting out. The course is already laid out, and the elements are not in any human’s hands. Race Day is here. You have to deal with it.

Runner or not, we all have race days.

  • Newly engaged…race day is coming
  • Newly pregnant…race day is coming
  • Final child about to graduate…race day is coming
  • Mid-life career change approaching…race day is coming
  • Anticipating retirement…race day is coming

These race days, if you’re living life well, you see coming and can do your best to make the right training choices. There are some race days you don’t see coming. Like 100MPH wind race days. If you are a “This Is Us” fan, this week you saw Beth and Randall have to deal with a major Race Day with their 17-year-old. All race days, known and unknown, come, and you don’t have a choice but to deal with the elements.

So what do we do? Sure, most training days and race days are mild. Enjoy them to the fullest. On those “unmild” days, recognize you have choices. If you want to be ready for race day, you’ve got to be willing to run into the wind occasionally. When that’s not your best option, it’s okay to slow the pace or claim it as rest day.

Be wise. Race day is coming.

You Have Options

Three Saturdays ago I was sleeping the day away, pretty sure I had COVID. Test came back the next day affirming my suspicion.

I test my health often by running. Can I? How did it go? Do I need a nap soon after? Yadda yadda.

Thankfully my case was mild. I “ran a test” with a decent 5k the following Wednesday, but not every run since has been an indicator that all is well.

Earlier this week I set a plan to run each day this weekend-a progressive schedule of six miles on Friday, seven on Saturday, and eight on Sunday. Nothing new. This was a routine schedule this past Fall.

Not sure what it is, but Friday runs since the Summer have occasionally been rough. Yesterday was one of them. I cut it short, ending up with 4.15 miles. I haven’t let my mind look at Fridays any differently…well, until yesterday.

So last night and this morning I debated how far I should run this morning. Not running wasn’t an option I considered. I landed on simply running the same route as yesterday and see how the six went. Around mile two my legs felt pretty much like yesterday, not quite as sluggish. I decided it didn’t matter what pace I had to adjust to, how much walk/running I had to do, six miles was happening today.

A little over three miles I stopped for a quick water break in the park. I didn’t stop long. I didn’t want my body to tell my mind what to do. Somewhere in mile four my legs perked up. I told myself, “Go with it.” I adjusted my course and ran past my next turn taking the next road instead.

I ended up taking four more such turns and completed just under seven miles…with more in the tank.

Here’s my takeaway. We all have days when things don’t go according to plan. We all have to deal with letdowns, apparent failures, missed goals. At the end of those days when we assess the next one, we have options. They range from shutting down to overcompensating. Usually, somewhere in the middle is the best option.

How your next day goes is entirely up to you. You have options.

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

I’m Here To…

Around mile 2 of my run this morning, I passed a runner who was struggling. And I might add, it’s December 31st and 70F at sunrise, so understandable. I feel you.

But what really caught my eye was his shirt. I hadn’t seen one, but maybe you have. Here’s an example:

Gave me a chuckle. And gave me something to think about the rest of my run.

Was that guy actually making a statement about his running? Or was it “just” the first shirt he grabbed?

Was his apparent struggle to be running supported by his shirt? Or was it a declaration a day early of 2022?

Whatever the case, this statement aligns with how we often show up. And it mostly has to do with that second word. That four-letter word says quite a bit. And it often says, much like a familiar bumper sticker, “I’d rather be somewhere else.” So maybe in that runner’s case, “I’d rather be sitting on my lanai, drinking another cup of coffee, watching College Game Day!”

In the spirit of improving how we show up, let me throw out a couple of suggestions.

One, drop the word “just” anytime you’re making a statement about why you’re anywhere. Whatever amount of tongue biting is involved (been there), stay silent until you can state why you’re there without sounding like you don’t want to be.

Second, on a deeper level in the spirit of New Year’s Eve, how about editing this statement to declare how you desire to show up? “I’m here to __________.” How do you fill in the blank this coming Monday at 8AM? What best completes that sentence for your hopes for the first month of 2022? The first quarter? The entire year?

Declare to yourself, to God, and to whoever else that would benefit, “I’m here to __________.”

Here’s to showing up with purpose in 2022!

Tucson Reflection #4

A little travel trivia for you based on an article by Livability (2016):

  • The average American has visited 12 states.
  • The top five visited states are Florida, California, Georgia, New York, and Nevada.
  • California, Florida, and New York residents have visited fewer states than the typical American.
  • 10% of Americans have never been to a state other than the one they live in.
  • Americans take more than four leisure trips per year.

My Thanksgiving trip of 11 days, counting airports, took me to five states. Looking at these trivia points, it would be foolish of me not to see my life as privileged.

At some point on this trip, maybe on a plane or driving around Tucson, a thought occurred to me. The more I travel to new places the smaller I get. I’m pretty sure it was while I was in Tucson. I’m guessing because Tucson was unlike any other city I’ve visited.

Sure, it is American. Sure, it is modern. Sure, it is multicultural. Sure, it is a University town. Sure, it is picturesque. Sure, it is probably just about anything you’d want a city to be where you live or visit.

Something about Tucson, though, expanded my world and reminded me that the world is quite big. Therefore, I am quite small.

Now, someone might read that and the takeaway would be, “That sounds depressing.” Thankfully, with the worldview I have, my response is the opposite. I’m grateful for the reminder.

Too often my world revolves around me. I’m “bigger” than I really am. Is that because I’m American? Single? Male? White? Privileged? Floridian? Alabama fan? Probably. But it’s also because I’m human, in the lineage of Adam. I fall prey to wanting to be like God.

The smaller we children of Adam see ourselves in comparison to God the better our lives are. We allow the fullness of His presence; we give him more space to reveal he’s bigger. Bigger than us. Bigger than our stuff. Bigger than our circumstances. Bigger than our doubts. Bigger than our fears. Bigger.

On behalf of all the children of Adam, thank you, Tucson! You remind us God is Big!

Photo by REVOLT on Unsplash